Doctor and Hospital Missed Signs of Oxygen Deprivation in Infant
This past Monday, a jury in Lehigh County, West Virginia awarded $55 million to a couple whose child suffers from cerebral palsy as a result of mistakes made during his November 2009 childbirth.
The verdict is believed to be the largest for a single plaintiff in the history of the U.S.
According to the parents and plaintiffs, Mark Crowell and Sharon Petrosky Crowell of the Ohio Valley, the child wasn’t getting enough oxygen, but the doctor, Dr. Ronald Kirner, and St. Luke’s University Hospital, failed to notice the signs of distress.
Instead of delivering the baby via Caesarean section, which would have alleviated the problem, Dr. Kirner opted for vaginal delivery, which led to the child becoming stuck in the birth canal. The doctor used vacuum extraction to dislodge the baby, causing further oxygen loss. In addition, Petrosky Crowell began hemorrhaging and required emergency surgery.
During the 2012 trial, nationally recognized experts from Harvard, Johns Hopkins and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia sided with Kirner’s and St. Luke’s choice of procedure. However, the jury disagreed, holding the hospital and Dr. Kirner equally responsible for injuries to the child, Matthew.
Matthew is now four and, in addition to having cerebral palsy, is severely developmentally delayed. He experiences difficulty in language development as well as physical movement.
Due to a deal struck between the parties before the verdict was reached (known as a ‘high-low agreement’) the plaintiffs will not receive the full $55 million award. The agreement capped how much the hospital would pay if the plaintiffs won or lost their case. Such agreements are common in civil cases. The exact amount the Crowells will receive is unknown.
Other Causes of Cerebral Palsy
Besides oxygen deprivation, cerebral palsy can be caused by:
Damages to the baby’s brain in the early stages of pregnancy
Gene mutations during brain development
Bleeding inside the brain during pregnancy or birth
A damaged placenta
Infections (such as meningitis) after birth
Does My Child Have Cerebral Palsy?
Parents are not often aware that their infant is suffering from cerebral palsy. According to the Mayo Clinic, they should observe the baby’s posture, reflexes, muscle movements, feeding and breathing to detect possible symptoms, which include:
Muscles that are too stiff or floppy
Lack of muscle coordination
Tremors, involuntary movements, or slow/writhing movements
Delayed motor skills
Favoring one side of the body
Excessive drooling Problems sucking, swallowing or eating
Difficulty speaking Difficulty with precise movements (e.g., picking up toys)
Parents who believe their infant suffered from oxygen deprivation during childbirth should ask for cranial ultrasounds, MRIs and blood tests to determine if their child is suffering from cerebral palsy or other birth injuries.